Morse’s legacy was too strong to fade entirely though and the pilot for Lewis hit TV screens in 2006 and this latest series is the seventh and quite possibly final one, depending on which news source or interview you choose to believe.
For my part I’m a dedicated Morseophile and as I write this my DVD collection of the entire Morse episodes plus all of the original Colin Dexter books sits comfortingly on the shelf across the room. By my reckoning it would be difficult, if not nearly impossible, for anyone under 30 or perhaps even 40 years old to grasp the impact that Inspector Morse had on British television. For example in 2003 the BBC web site reported that
“Actor John Thaw’s legacy is still being felt by the UK’s television industry as he remains one of the country’s biggest exports. The Inspector Morse series and the adaptation of Goodnight Mr Toms have been sold to more than 200 countries in the past five years.”
Viewing figures peaked at 18 million for Morse and an estimated billion people watched the programmes across the 200 countries in which the show was seen. In later series I recall that Morse spoilers would be published prominently in the tabloid newspapers such was the thirst for Morse-related information. If you go to Oxford today you can still go on Inspector Morse tours of the City, nearly 13 years after the last episode was shown on TV.
Imagine trying to create the series to follow that! I think most people would find the prospect intimidating and it can’t have been easy for Kevin Whately in particular as he had already expressed a desire to bring the Morse series and to an end so had been replaced in one of the final episodes of Morse that he’d chosen not to appear in. With Morse concluded all parties took a long enough break to let the dust well and truly settle so then the pilot episode of Lewis was made and well received and consequently the viewing figures for subsequent series have remained at a respectable level while never challenging Morse’s high point. Technology has inevitably changed through the years and high definition TV has helped bring out the gorgeous backdrops around Oxford that make both Morse and Lewis so distinctive and the writing for Lewis has maintained a consistent feel being awash with students and Oxford dons in profusion though unfortunately the script writers unfairly assign a murder rate to Oxford that one would only normally equate with the most lawless gang-ridden ghettos.
This seventh series features three episodes stretched across six programmes with Kevin Whatley playing Lewis and Laurence Fox as his sidekick James Hathaway and comes out only a matter of days since the last episode was shown on ITV. For the record the episodes in question are “Down Among the Fearful”, “Ramblin’ Boy” and “Intelligent Design” and all three have some lovely performances from some very familiar TV faces with the likes of Laurence’s father Edward Fox popping up as does the superb Sanjeev Bhaskar.
If you don’t like any kind of spoilers then look away now and scroll down to the paragraph beginning “If I had to pick three reasons”
Still with me? Good. “Down Among the Fearful” deals with the complex and unintended consequences which occur when scientific experiments involving peoples beliefs don’t go as intended. Psychology student Reuben Beatty is found dead in the offices of psychic Randolph James having been both drugged and poisoned with a somewhat distinctive drugs. A number of suspects present themselves although small car accident leaves Hathaway in a neck brace which is to have a significant part to play at the conclusion of the investigation.
In “Ramblin’ Boy” Hathaway is ‘on sabbatical’ and Lewis teams up with DC Gray (Babou Ceesay) to investigate how a body found in a field got to be there and why colleague Jack Cornish seems to have gone missing with the wife of the owner of an undertakers that is under suspicion as being connected to the body that was found. For those in the know this also sees an advance in the Lewis/Hobson relationship and the softer hearted will be cheered to think that Lewis may have a chance to find the love that so significantly eluded his former boss.
Lastly, in perhaps more than one way, “Intelligent Design” gives us a complex finale with the attempted reconciliation of a professor who’d just been released from jail goes badly and he subsequently is run over by his own car leading to a happily complex collections of suspects and alibis in best Morse fashion. The discovery of another long-dead body complicates matters even further and the investigation uncovers a web of complicated relationships plus a college scam but was that the motive or was there something else?
All of the stories are better than many that they compete with in similar detective series but for me it never quite makes it out from under the shadow of Morse and it feels like watching a superb and very competent tribute band, but a tribute band never the less.
Music as ever comes from the fabulously named Barrington Pheloung who also composed the music for the original Morse shows.
One bone of contention with Lewis/Morse fans is that this series took to airing the programmes as two one-hour shows rather than single two-hour shows. Now Morse set a trend for two-hour shows that others followed and there has been some dissatisfaction expressed at the change but that’s not a problem you’ll have with the DVD version as you can just play through sans adverts and sans episode breaks. One last point is that on the DVD copy I had there weren’t any special features and Amazon doesn’t mention any though both of us could have been deceived but I wouldn’t suggest you buy it for the special features.
If I had to pick three reasons to buy this series they would be these :
1) It’s a lot like Morse. If you have any love of the original you should love the familiar locations and occasional surreptitious tributes to the departed genius.
2) It’s visually gorgeous. The settings are wonderful and if nothing else about the series moves you the views of the “dreaming spires” have been enough, as mentioned before have, to boost Oxford’s tourist business.
3) It’s a great detective series living in the shadow of an even greater one. The plots still twist and turn more than an Oxford alleyway and leave you guessing up until the end.